By the end of the 1970's, most communist governments were running into major problems. By making everyone equal (besides upper Party members, of course), communism crushed the spirit of the individual, driving all pleasure out of any independent thinking, creativity or hard work. As a result, technology was constantly lagging behind that of the competitive West, and an ideology that was supposed to deliver more of everything for everyone, actually created mass shortages of everything.
As stated several times earlier, corruption seems to be inherent with a communist-style government. Consumers and factory managers had to pay bribes to get what they needed, and the bribes were gladly accepted. The few with the power used to their own ends without restraint. They had special hospitals, apartments and vacation homes reserved especially for them.
When Gorbachev gained power in 1985, he saw the troubles his country faced and revised his plan of action accordingly. He instituted glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Openness meant increasing freedom and cutting down on censorship. Restructuring meant making the economy more efficient. He also created limited democracy, in that the people were allowed to vote for candidates for some Party positions. He also called for an end to the arms race and Cold War.
None of this was meant to allow the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, much less in the USSR. After the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1987, which contaminated thousands of miles of Soviet territory, Gorbachev realized that larger changes were needed to correct the problems the Soviet Union faced. In 1987, people were allowed to own private businesses and central planning of Soviet factories was severely limited. In 1989, farmers were allowed to lease land for private use.
In 1987, personal freedom was increased by allowing access to many previously banned books, movies, and radio broadcasts. In 1989, people were given the ability to elect a new governing body, the Congress of People's Deputies. Boris Yeltsin was among those elected. In 1987, Gorbachev signed a treaty with American president Ronald Reagan banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. He pledged to cooperate on keeping the environment clean and stressed that owning any number of weapons does not amount to security. In 1989, he removed all Soviet troops from the communist regime in Afghanistan.
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